Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I Hadn't Understood by Diego De Silva

Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

The fact is that I’m an inconsistent narrator…I’m too interested in incidental considerations that can take you off track. When I tell a story, it’s like watching someone rummage through the drawer where they keep their receipts and records.

All this is just another way of saying my thoughts don’t seem to grip the road, they tend to skid and drift.

So explains Vincenzo Malinconico, the Italian lawyer who becomes one of the most lovable protagonists I’ve ever encountered in this story by Diego De Silva. On the surface, it is the story of a lawyer strong-armed into defending a low-level criminal backed by a dubious source, while at the same time dealing with the aftermath of a painful marital split. But, while the plot is fast and furious, the real draw is the character of Vincenzo. Hearing a character’s inner monologue can really be a risk, as it can veer into boring pretty quickly. But in this case, you really just want to hear him talk.

And talk he does!  At times using lists and bullet points, his mind races around analyzing everything. He does a two-page riff on Camorra interior décor, to the point I had to grab Kleenex from laughing so hard. (If you have a fuschia and marble living room, you may find his observations uncomfortable). Another phenomena that Vincenzo investigates with wit and insight is the way some people talk in public, raising their voices so their imagined audience can see how cynical and world-weary they are.  He manages to capture the insecurity that's revealed in the gestures and chatter of those desperately hoping that someone finds them fascinating.  Edgy and fast-paced, the scenes that take place in the courthouse have some of the best dialogue I've read. 

The thing that is so unique is that while he pokes fun at others constantly (but most of all himself), he's never really mean or nasty. That would get tedious after awhile.   Instead of arrogance, it's with acceptance that he realizes just about everyone he knows is a jerk in some way or another, including himself, so he doesn't seem to take any of it too seriously.

At another point he tries to understand the difference between perception and actuality:

“The thing is that reality mumbles. It expresses itself in incomplete sentences. And the translations that circulate are terrible, done by incompetents. Riddled with misreading, typos, entire lines missing. I make imperfect translations in an effort to get by until, one fine morning, I meet reality in the street –nonchalant, understated, never vulgar – and I stand there, rooted to the spot, staring as she passes me by and vanishes…”

At one point, he discovers he’s being followed. Vincenzo has to look at his options.

In these cases, in fact, the first thing you do when you’re out walking is to slow down, take a deep breath and square your shoulders, as if somehow you feel incredibly interesting all of a sudden.

Obviously in your case this is all just a farce, because if you really did think that a criminal was following you in order to rob you or settle some account that you know nothing about, at the very least you’d start running like a sewer rat or you’d scream for help in the general direction of the first policeman, traffic cop, or mailman (anything wearing a uniform, in other words) you happen to see; I very much doubt you’d waste time acting like the poor man’s James Bond.”

Vincenzo obsesses about his luxury furniture, fights with his wife’s new man at an airport Burger King, and tries to learn all the case law he’s forgotten while still managing to catch the eye of the courthouse’s loveliest lawyer. Even that mystifies him, as he tries to figure out what she seems in him.  The lyrics to Gilbert O'Sullivan's Alone Again (Naturally) get a complete dissection that will alter all previous associations to the song, as "You nod along to the tempo and then shudder in horror at the end of each verse."  Small and annoying dogs get a few pages in too, and while almost universally despised, he manages to freshly capture what it is that makes us hate them so much.

Vincenzo is a fresh character --reflective and thoughtful without sinking into self-absorption. A fun read.

Special thanks to Europa Editions for the Advance Review Copy.
This title releases in the US on February 28, 2012.

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